Helping a friend with bipolar disorder

Support from friends and family is really important when you’re living with bipolar disorder. These tips will help you to be a great support to someone going through a hard time, and help you look after yourself too.

This can help with:

  • Understanding mood changes
  • Encouraging a friend with bipolar to seek help
  • Knowing how to identify when a person is at risk of relapse
  • Reducing your own stress levels when caring for someone with bipolar disorder
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Why supporting someone with bipolar disorder is so important

People with bipolar disorder can lead great lives when their symptoms are properly managed but they can go through some pretty serious distress at times, so it’s really important they have support. There can be a lot of stigma attached to bipolar disorder, so acceptance and support from friends and family is really important. It helps allow the person with bipolar disorder to focus on managing their condition and means they don’t have to worry as much about being judged for their behaviour.

What to do

  • Accept their condition. Bipolar is an illness and therefore very difficult to control. If someone with bipolar is going through a phase where they are experiencing symptoms, it’s not possible for them to just snap out of it if they’re depressed or low. They also can’t control themselves when they are having a manic episode (experiencing a high). So it won’t help to tell them to calm down or get over it. 

  • Be there to listen. Ask them about what they’re going through and make the conversation open and easy for them. Try to find out what they find helpful during tough times.

  • Encourage them to stay on their medication. Sometimes medications can have side effects and a person might be tempted to stop taking them. But that’s a really risky thing to do without consulting a doctor as most people need medication to prevent relapse. Also, there are some medications that have withdrawal side effects when they are stopped suddenly. If someone wants to stop taking their meds, try to keep reminding them of the benefits of the medication, and if they do stop taking it, try and encourage them to see their doctor ASAP. 

  • Look out for warning signs. Sometimes even when someone is on medication they can start experiencing changes to their mood. You might notice some of the early warning signs for their change in mood; for example, if they’re mood has started to lower they may become more isolated, and if their mood is becoming more elevated they might seem impatient and be sleeping less.

    If you’ve noticed something different about someone’s mood and you’re worried about their behaviour, let them know you have noticed a change and encourage them to talk to their doctor. If you’re worried they might be at serious risk or unsafe, find some help immediately. 

  • Keep their doctors phone number on hand. If something happens and the situation becomes unsafe, having the contact numbers of their doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist is a great idea. If you can’t get through, get in touch with an emergency contact.

How to help yourself

You might be really worried about someone living with bipolar disorder but it’s really important you also look after yourself.

  • Don’t give up the things you enjoy. Make sure you still have time to yourself to do your favourite things and work towards your own goals. If you’ve lost sight of your own goals, set some new ones.

  • Set boundaries. You aren’t always going to be able to be there for every moment and you can’t let helping someone take over your life. Set some limits on what things you are willing and not willing to do – and stick to them! 

  • Learn to relax. Relaxation is great in helping you deal with stressful situations

  • Ask for support. Make sure you’re getting emotional support. Talk to people you trust about how you are feeling. You might also want to talk about it in counselling or join a support group.

What can I do now?


Last reviewed: 08 March, 2016
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